Designing For Non-Expert Users

The Context

We worked with our client ExactTarget (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) to design an email marketing application for, a hosting and web design provider for small businesses.

When we say small businesses, we’re talking about very small. Typically a single owner / employee providing a service or running a retail establishment –often they're on a first name basis with their customers! wanted to offer these businesses a powerful but easy-to-use email marketing suite.

Fundamental to this project was our research finding that these folks were not email-marketing savvy. Most of them had never used email as a business promotion tool. This understanding became the center of gravity for our design. The result is a tool that turns many marketing concepts on their head to ensure a process that is as simple as possible while still allowing for sophisticated email marketing.

‍The first view of the application once you’ve signed up.

Making Navigation Obvious

As we considered the beginner's mind, we re-thought what primary objects were called. In the email marketing world 'Campaigns' and 'Subscribers' are typical ways to describe email and the people who receive them. But if you're a contractor or a landscape designer, these words may end up sounding more unusual than typical. We worked to reduce the friction users would have when working in the site; 'Emails' are emails; 'Contacts' are contacts. Both translated well from the real world, not specialized marketing terms.

Dynamic Design Based On Experience

We developed a dynamic guided experience that matured along with the user. This included three states of each dashboard module, helpful content inserted if no user-content was created yet and concepts like “Suggested Next Steps” to guide someone with little time who wanted to maximize their product usage.

How the dashboard changes over time: 1) First time experience, 2) Contacts Added, and 3) All functionality explored.

Plentiful, Easily Accessed Resources

We focused on building a guide that helped inexperienced business owners through the steps of using the product. A primary design decision was to surfacing content contextually so a user never had to dig through an FAQ or Help section to find simple answers. The bulk of the content – related to operational questions – was built into videos. Tips and short lists provided additional information in a 'just-in-time' fashion.

Resource modules were placed consistently throughout the interface and provided contextual tips and video tutorials. Suggested Next Steps never left someone feeling lost on how to improve.

Creating an Email

On many email marketing services, the experience of creating an email goes through many steps before a user actually arrives at the fun part of choosing a theme and layout. We cut out all of the standard form fields and details so users could start creating an email straight away.

Describing Purpose Instead Of Layout

We found through research that there are key layouts that work well for different types of messages. So, instead of naming different layouts based on a grid or visual style, we chose a naming-convention that described the type of message being composed.

For instance, layouts named 'Newsletters', 'Events', 'Announcements' and 'Coupons/Offers' made it much simpler for users to decide which layout to select.

Additionally, the “dummy” content of the layout was actual content written as if it were a real email providing a good starting point from which to modify as necessary.

The first of just 3 pages to create a new email. Immediately getting to the good stuff, not a form.

For editing images, we greatly limited controls to the key edits necessary to craft a simple, well-designed email.

Automatic Save

Our solution to avoid having the end user name and organize emails created but not yet sent was to auto-save drafts as soon as they began adding content. The name of the email is then a combination of layout choice along with a timestamp.

Showing the auto save time stamp functionality

Tips to Improve

As a first time marketer, it’s exciting to watch people open and click on your email content. What to do if those numbers aren’t what you were expecting or hoping? What if you had no idea what to expect? We worked with ExactTarget to understand the most common issues that go into poor performing emails and content and placed those tips inline as users reviewed results.

The tracking page for an email send includes content on understanding your results.

Once a user sends more than a single email, they start to think about how email marketing impacts the bottom line in a broader way. Seeing an overview of performance across all sent emails teaches them about simple best practices that can be leveraged in their future mailings.

Email Reports

The Reports page for email includes content on how to improve the main metrics one would track with very practical steps.

All products should be designed this way

A design focus on a beginning user is valuable for any product. Dynamic display can get the help tools out of the way as users become more experienced, and the result is a more user-centric product design.